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Opinion

Opinion

GOP forces game of budget roulette

August 17, 2012

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— The politics of “sequestration” illustrate the talent of congressional Republicans, led by Rep. Paul Ryan for being on both sides of the budget issue: They play a game of “chicken” with federal outlays, demanding a balanced budget without tax increases, and then insist that it’s the Democrats’ fault if there’s a crackup.

This fiscal impasse will be a dramatic backdrop for the fall presidential campaign: As Election Day approaches, the clock will be ticking on across-the-board cuts of about 10 percent for the Defense Department and 8 percent for the rest of the government that will take effect Jan. 2, 2013, if nothing is done. Each side says it wants a compromise, but the voters will have to decide who can deliver a bipartisan solution that avoids a fiscal catastrophe and gets the country moving again.

Ryan, the likely GOP vice presidential nominee, and his party want to look like responsible budget-cutters. But from the evidence in the sequestration fight, this will be a hard case to make convincingly. Whipsawed all last year by tea party activists, Ryan and the House Republicans were insistently unyielding. They often looked like wreckers more than fixers.

Sequestration was meant to be the economic equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot. It was tacked onto the 2011 Budget Control Act as a way of forcing a compromise by the ill-named “supercommittee” that was supposed to come up with a long-term deficit reduction plan. If it couldn’t make a deal, then the deliberately irrational, across-the-board process of sequestration would ensue — with the heaviest burden falling on the defense and intelligence programs meant to keep the country safe. And of course, there was no deal, and the sequestration meat grinder started whirring.

This game of budget roulette has players from both sides of the aisle. But it began with a deliberate effort by House Republicans to hold the nation’s economy hostage to force passage of their preferred budget package. The first version of budget brinksmanship was the GOP’s refusal to raise the debt ceiling. Then it became sequestration.

If President Obama had been a better politician, he would have seized the high ground by championing the Simpson-Bowles plan to stabilize the nation’s finances through a combination of budget cuts (including in entitlement programs) and tax increases. That’s where many Democrats know they must eventually go, but not too soon, lest they offend Democratic interest groups. Obama needs to step up to the challenge Ryan implicitly poses: How can entitlement programs be cut fairly and wisely?

As sequestration draws near, Ryan has drafted an alternative budget that would avoid the drastic cuts in national security spending. But it still avoids the tax increases Democrats say are necessary for a fair budget compromise. What’s more, Ryan and other GOP leaders have been demanding that the administration announce specific plans for how it will manage the cuts. Presumably, they want to carve out exemptions for defense programs. But really, this is more budget politics, making it appear that it’s Obama’s fault for implementing the cuts rather than Congress’ for passing them.

The White House has refused to play this game. Jeffrey Zients, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, told Congress this month: “Sequestration, by design, is bad policy, and Congress should pass balanced, deficit reduction to avoid it. ... The impact of sequestration cannot be lessened with advance planning and executive action.”

Zients offered some chilling examples of what the roughly 8 percent cuts will mean: the Federal Aviation Administration, which keeps the airways safe, will cut operations; the number of FBI and Border Patrol agents will be reduced, making the country less secure; weather forecasting by the National Weather Service will be affected. Ashton Carter, the deputy secretary of defense, said the Pentagon would seek to delay the impact on combat units, but that some units deploying to Afghanistan could receive less training.

And then there’s intelligence, perhaps the scariest aspect of budget roulette. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said in an interview there could be cuts in overhead surveillance activities and counterterrorism operations. “You’re seriously putting the nation at risk, and I’m not being melodramatic,” Clapper said.

And whose fault is it that America is pointing the gun at itself and preparing to pull the trigger, absent an agreement before Jan. 2? That’s what this election will be about, in part. Ryan and the Republicans will have to explain why, over the past year, they have so consistently preferred brinkmanship to compromise.

— David Ignatius is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.     

Comments

Lateralis 1 year, 7 months ago

There's plenty of blocking and political maneuvering going on. Check Democrat Harry Reid.

As late as 2010 he supported auditing the fed and by his own admission since 1985 he has been championing that cause. But for some reason he's not bringing the House bill (passed overwhelmingly 327- 98) to the senate for consideration.

RE amendment to audit the fed: "I offer that amendment every year and every year the legislation gets nowhere" Harry Reid 1/23/1995

Start at the 2:10 mark.

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Armstrong 1 year, 8 months ago

Why do you care observant ? Barry has a lock on the election - in Larryville. Meanwhile the rest of America is anxiously waiting to help Barry live out his words from '08. " It's the economy, if I have'nt turned the economy around in my first term I will be a one term president". Buh Bye Barry

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FalseHopeNoChange 1 year, 8 months ago

'Potaato' Potato.

Digital money is the 'answer.' Flex has helicopter Ben working as 'fast and furiously' as he can before the election.

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Windemere 1 year, 8 months ago

Bozo talked about "Real solutions" but these ideas raise some serious issues that should not be dismissed out of hand. "Single-payer healthcare system, which could cut costs on healthcare by $hundreds of billions." Yes, would cut costs. But it amounts to a huge power grab by the federal government and many believe that rationing/signficant waits for medical care would be inevitable. Peoples' concerns about such things shouldn't be trivialized. Why doesn't the free market work to drive costs lower? From what I've read, much blame goes to: restrictions on insurance companies to market across state lines to compete for customers; protectionist laws that limit choices about medical care and cause people to have to see an expensive doctor vs a cheaper, easier alternative; and perhaps most important, the fact that employer-provided health care is tax deductible. Of course prices will go up because the incentives are skewed. Make it more like auto insurance and prices will go down. In fact, it's the Fed govt that caused our health insurance to be tied to our employers -- wage control laws in WWII made employers want to offer non-wage incentives to attract employees, so bingo, offer them health insurance. A nice mess ensues.

The "waste", it seems, is in the big money reaped by those in the medical field and those who supply the health care industry (drug companies, etc). Can't we take back this waste by using the might of consumers to drive prices down? It works in other sectors of the economy.

"Cutting war spending by 80%, saving $hundreds of billions more." Well, that's scary to a lot of people. Yes, the US has often used military power in a very bad way, too arrogant, too power-hungry. But Is there any thing more important than national defense? Cuts of 80%? Seems reckless.

"Cut subsidies to Wall Street and all the corruption that goes with it, saving $hundreds of billions more." End corporate welfare.

" Increase taxes on the wealthy, increasing revenues significantly." To a degree, seems fair. But not some ridiculous rate like one sees in Western Europe. And even if the wealthy paid a whole lot more, doesn't that amount to just a tiny increase in revenues compared to the scope of the problem? And at what cost in taking away the incentive to invest and take chances in starting or growing businesses?

It's a straw man argument to say that those who are very leery of things like Obamacare are the greedy rich. Many people who are opposed or have big reservations are not wealthy. Freedom and choice matter.

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tbaker 1 year, 8 months ago

ObamaCare takes $718 billion out of Medicare and establishes the un-elected 15 member Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board to unilaterally decide what Medicare will and will not pay for. How does that not reduce what seniors on Medicare end up getting?

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jafs 1 year, 8 months ago

George has a good point in there.

It's often charged that Obamacare will reduce benefits to seniors, which is not true. But, reducing payments to providers may in fact result in more providers who don't want to take Medicare, which may result in seniors having trouble finding good doctors that do take it.

What good is it to have good Medicare benefits if you can't find a good doctor to see?

My solution to Medicare and SS is to make them both need-based and means tested, and to stop collecting separately for them (it's a farce to do so since the government just uses the money for other things anyway). For example, we could set a monthly amount - say $1500/month. Anybody who has more income than that from other sources doesn't get SS/Medicare, and people who have less than that get subsidized up to it (if you have $700/month, you get $800/month), and Medicare benefits.

One could think of it as insurance, or as retirement supplementation services (a la fire, police, etc.)

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tbaker 1 year, 8 months ago

40% of every dollar the US government spends is borrowed. We are on the exact same path Europe was on. We are headed to the exact same result of debt crisis and austerity measures which will break the promise the US government made to every citizen who has paid into the two programs that are driving the deficit; Medicare and Social Security. Either we reform these programs and reduce spending overall, or we will face a terrible crisis that will hurt everyone in this country, most especially the young and the poor. We need real solutions. Continued demagoguery and political BS isn’t solving the problem and all Mr. Obama and the Dems have done is make it worse.

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verity 1 year, 8 months ago

Just read over some of the comments above regarding Social Security and the wealth of seniors. What nobody mentions, unless I missed it, is that the $232,000 was accumulated over a lifetime so that people would have money when they retired---just like they are supposed to do. A large part of that might be tied up in a house where the person is living so it is not something they can be using for day to day living. Since it's likely that the senior no longer has a job which brings in income, the money they have accumulated will have to last them for the rest of their lives---and mostly people don't know how long they are going to live.

I have paid into the Social Security system just as I saved and invested money---in expectation that eventually I would reap the rewards. To use net worth to say that the poor are supporting the rich doesn't make sense. Having a net worth of $232,000 when you're 65+ doesn't make you wealthy. If you only spend $30,000 a year, it will be gone in less than eight years.

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cowboy 1 year, 8 months ago

LAWRENCE — Third District congressional candidate Kevin Yoder refused an officer's request during a traffic stop to participate in a Breathalyzer test to determine whether he was driving while intoxicated, according to court records obtained Saturday.

Yoder, a Republican four-term member of the Kansas House from Overland Park, was questioned by a Kansas Highway Patrol trooper in February 2009 after being pulled over for speeding on K-10 highway. Yoder declined at that time to take the breath test. The case was closed in June 2009, and records indicated he entered a plea of guilty to speeding in a Lawrence courtroom.

Just to refresh your memories

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cowboy 1 year, 8 months ago

What happens in Galilee stays in Galilee .....

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cowboy 1 year, 8 months ago

Republican Priorities....

Kansas Rep Kevin Yoder busted for swimming naked with a bunch of other GOP reps , staffers , and family member folks while drunk and on a trip to israel staying in $1000 dollar a night rooms. GOP spokespeople called the sea biblicly significant , what a pile of hooey.

Check out Politico for the whole story.

Resign tomorrow Yoder you loser !

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George Lippencott 1 year, 8 months ago

Hi camper, I used 2008 since I referenced that year as a baseline to return to in my first post. You are right over the longer haul

Yep, Medicare and Medicaid and VA medical and essentially all medical costs have increased by roughly the same amount per patient. Yep I see a lot of arguments that Obama Care will be free. Cheep shot. If we do not address the costs of medical care we just may go broke. That said and as noted above I am not sure future medical inflation will necessarily equal past medical inflation

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camper 1 year, 8 months ago

Since 1990 food stamp outlays have increased from $15B to $76B which is a 400% Increase.

Since 1990 Medicare outlays have increased from $125B to $525B which is a 320% increase.

However, the budget impact from the food stamp program is much smaller because it is only 2% of the total federal budget, while Medicare is 15%.

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George Lippencott 1 year, 8 months ago

Actually Defense as we have known it has only increased about 13% in real terms since 1990. That despite two wars – the result of which from our national standpoint might be considered marginal. I did not include Defense spending on homeland security as that is real and growing and different.

I would look more closely at the many components of the social safety net. For example food stamp costs have almost doubled since 2008 contributing to a big fight that has delayed passage of the farm bill.

Now maybe the net needed to grow but sourcing the right cause seems a more rational thing to do

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camper 1 year, 8 months ago

The above link is interesting and it summarizes 1) Federal Tax Receipts and 2) Federal Outlays since 1940. The trend has been an uptick in both since 1980 (with a brief reprieve in the late 90's).

So why are these numbers increasing at alarming amounts? We were spending about .5 trillion in the 80's and now it is about 3.5 trillion. Our population has not increased that much.

Here is my guess. The cost of health care and defense is far greater than the rate of inflation. The rising costs of these two items may very well be the primary source of our woes.

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Liberty_One 1 year, 8 months ago

The best way to deal with complicated issues is to provide logic and facts to arrive at conclusions. This is what I do, like when I pointed out the FACT that SS and medicare take from poor people and give to wealthy people. The worst is to make snide remarks and eschew all logic for ideological and unsupported declarations.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 8 months ago

One way to deal with complicated issues is just to declare up to be down.

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Liberty_One 1 year, 8 months ago

The Social Safety Net takes money away from the poor and gives to the wealthy. Most poor people are younger and most wealthy people are older. This is because it takes a while to accumulate wealth. Programs like SS take from poor working young people and give to older, retired wealthy people. Most young people do not own their own homes, and if they do they still owe on it. Older people own their own homes at much higher rates and 60% of them that do have already paid it off.

Thus SS and Medicare are taking money from the poor and giving to the rich. But don't let facts get in the way of ideology.

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George Lippencott 1 year, 8 months ago

Now the obvious compromise solution would be a tax cut for the middle, a tax increase for the very wealthy (offsetting to avoid impact on our "recovery") and cuts in domestic programs to where they were back in 2008 in balance with Defense cuts already underway.

Of course the Democrats will not buy any cuts in their favorite programs for their constituents any more than the Republicans will buy tax increases for their wealthy constituents - not sure many Democrats are not in league with that.

Just exactly who is refusing to compromise? Could it in reality be both parties at equal culpability?

I will call off my dogs if you will call off your??!!

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tange 1 year, 8 months ago

When wishing to obfuscate the availability of and access to resources and the means and fruits of productivity, best to resort to abstractions like... money.

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Flap Doodle 1 year, 8 months ago

Mr. Nader, the 1970s called. Your relevance misses you and wants you to come back.

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Mixolydian 1 year, 8 months ago

Game of chicken? Is it being played in front of a mirror? Claiming the Republicans are playing chicken is just ignorant. It takes two to do that dance.

This article could just as easily be written against the Democrats, i.e., Reid holding up every single job bill, budget, welform reform, and tax reform bill coming from the House. Just try to count the number of bills coming from the House to the Senate that Reid has declared dead on arrival.

Here's a comprimise, if the Republicans accept the tax rates of the 90's, then the Democrats should accept the Republican budgets, dollar for dollar, from the 90's. As it stands, Republicans don't want a tax increase on anyone, democrats refuse to do a simple budget.

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Paul R Getto 1 year, 8 months ago

"This game of budget roulette has players from both sides of the aisle. But it began with a deliberate effort by House Republicans to hold the nation’s economy hostage to force passage of their preferred budget package. The first version of budget brinksmanship was the GOP’s refusal to raise the debt ceiling. Then it became sequestration." === This is the key point to remember as this debate continues.

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oldbaldguy 1 year, 8 months ago

we are screwed. i do not see anyone on the national scene that can pull us together to better the country. the defense and intel budgets can be cut, you just can't fights wars while you are doing it.

1

Flap Doodle 1 year, 8 months ago

More than 1200 days without a Senate budget. How does Harry Reid spend his time?

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KansasLiberal 1 year, 8 months ago

"If President Obama had been a better politician, he would have seized the high ground by championing the Simpson-Bowles plan..."

Oh, please. The Simpson-Bowles plan was so bad that nobody on the commission except for Simpson and Bowles championed it. The REAL way to reign in the budget is to drastically cut military and intelligence spending and closing every single overseas base before we make ANY cuts to programs in America.

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headdoctor 1 year, 8 months ago

My mistake. All this time I thought it was greedy power hungry politicians that were the problem. That $220 trillion in unfunded liabilities is just another guesstimate that will be used for political spin. The current actual on and off budget amount is extremely high but only about one quarter of what it being stated.

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Liberty_One 1 year, 8 months ago

Listen folks, this is all a big joke. This is just the on-budget deficit that they can't deal with. The off-budget deficit is far worse and not even close to getting better. The off-budget deficit is $220 trillion and growing. That's coming from the CBO. What that is, is the total liabilities the government owes like for SS and medicare over the next 75 years. And it doesn't mean that the government will need to collect $220 trillion over that time period, it means that it needs that money NOW so that it can earn interest in order to make those payments. That much wealth doesn't exist in the entire world.

What does that mean? No amount of tax increases can possibly cover it all. Face it, socialism is a failure. You cannot use the State to pay for things like retirement and health care. It does not work.

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 8 months ago

Rt Wing Libertarian Neocon Fundamentalist Tea Party for Economic Terrorism.

Funding for Economic Terrorism is provided by:

Wal-Mart / Exxon Mobil / Corrections Corporation of America / AT&T / Pfizer Pharmaceuticals

Time Warner Cable / Comcast / Verizon / Phillip Morris International / Koch Industries

Also assisted through a host of right-wing think tanks and foundations.

The Architects

http://www.justice.org/cps/rde//justice/hs.xsl/15044.htm

http://www.democracynow.org/2011/8/5/secretive_corporate_legislative_group_alec_holds

http://www.democracynow.org/2011/8/5/new_expos_tracks_alec_private_prison

http://www.truth-out.org/publicopoly-exposed/1310660473

http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2005/0705rebne.html

http://rationalrevolution0.tripod.com/war/bush_family_and_the_s.htm

http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2009/0709macewan.html

http://www.democracynow.org/2009/9/10/good_billions_after_bad_one_year

"Republican" Economic Terrorists cost the USA too much money!

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Abdu Omar 1 year, 8 months ago

As long as Republicans owe allegence to Grover Norquist, there will be no compromise. Their goal is to represent the upper rich class and the middle and lower classes are nothing to them. We need leadership that represents all classes of people and will do what is best for ALL the people of America. Think this will happen? I am weary of the presidential campaign already and all of the negative ads on tv make America look bad. Let's find a better way!

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